Friday, 11 December 2015

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Like The Phantom Menace before it, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones occupies a non-committal middleground that strangles any possible hint of enjoyment. Anakin Skywalker's slow metamorphosis from a nasty, entitled brat into a nasty, entitled murderer is played at arm's length. Writer-director George Lucas is unwilling to really spend time and engage with who or what Hayden Christensen's hero is becoming. Hence Skywalker's story is bracketed off from the usual derring-do, and told in quick, embarrassed gasps.

Finally let off the Jedi's leash to protect / harass Natalie Portman's Senator Amidala, Skywalker conjures up a reason to return to Tatooine and visit his mother. In a profoundly sterile film that centres around the soulless reproduction of an entire race, Anakin's uncomplicated, childish desire seems refreshingly human. Once home, Skywalker follows a harrowing breadcrumb trail, eventually finding his mother bound and brutalised in a Tusken Raider camp. He reacts as Ethan Edwards from The Searchers might have, slaughtering each and every one of them.

Now whilst this reaction is neither moral nor heroic, it is emotionally understandable. Much more so than Master Yoda's desire to scoop up the galaxy's Force sensitive toddlers and rechristen them Younglings. Lucas, perhaps mindful of revelling in such impure, kneejerk instincts in a PG rated film, keeps a physical distance between Skywalker and his audience. We're never allowed to occupy the same head space as this murderous Jedi, Anakin's venom is kept at a discreet, revolted distance.

Shmi Skywalker's fate is a crucial moment in the Star Wars prequels, indicative of an alarming disconnect between what we're being told and what we're actually being shown. That Shmi was consigned to slavery at all voids any moral high ground the Jedi presume to hold. All the money and resources at their disposal and they couldn't buy out Shmi's contract and place her in some apartment on Coruscant? Is the emotional and spiritual well-being of their messiah so unimportant? Lucas makes the Jedi a monastic cult of Knights who kidnap and brainwash the vulnerable, demanding they measure up to a set of ideals that prioritise emotional remoteness. These are the people we're supposed to root for?

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